Monthly Archives: July 2008

On his radio show Glenn Greenwald interviews Daniel Ellsburg, the former RAND Corporation employee whose release of the infamous “Pentagon Papers” in 1971 exposed the complicity of the U.S. government in continuing the war in Vietnam. As a result, Ellsburg was charged with 12 felony counts and might have served up to 115 years in prison had not the Supreme Court ruled in his favor. The leaking of the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times so infuriated Nixon that he authorized the creation of a White House unit designed to stop leaks (the infamous “Plumbers”); the burgling of Democratic headquarters in the Watergate Hotel shortly thereafter was the next logical step of an administration obsessed with control.

The full transcript is a good read. Ellsburg and Greenwald reminds us that Americans have no reason to trust Obama and McCain to restore our fallen liberties in the wake of their respective votes and non-votes for the FISA compromise.

DE: I think that in that sense Cheney and Bush have been and are domestic enemies of our actual Constitution, as written. And I don’t say that rhetorically. I’m not saying that they’re traitors or disloyal in their feelings toward this country, or that they don’t want the best for this country. I think they want the best for this country, but what they think is best is something other than our Constitution of the last two hundred years. It is something like an elected dictatorship.

They have a right to believe that. But they don’t have a right to act on that as they have [after taking that oath]. The question here is, as you’re raised, how can we change that if we don’t hold them to account somehow? Well, I think we have to be very creative here in finding ways to repudiate that point of view and roll it back and restore our Constitution. Perhaps some way other than impeachment: which is the straightforward way, but which by every indication the Democrats are simply determined not to give us and are not going to do it now this year, unfortunately.

And Obama has indicated as of now… with his advisor Cass Sunstein, who I think you demolished when you interviewed him the other day–I would have been dizzied, listening to him if I was in your place, and as an advisor to Obama…there were just wild descriptions of what democracy requires–but with that kind of advice, we have to assume that Obama, who also wants to bring people together and to reach across the aisle and to look towards the future, none of those indicate he will be interested in pursuing these issues.

Yet Greenwald doesn’t lose his cool. The present looks blurry to commentators, thus more vulnerable to hyperbole about its awfulness:

GG: I think it always seems that hard core indictments of one’s own time and one’s own political system are exaggerated because people only see the extremism of their time retrospectively. I think it strikes people as hyperbole because they just think we don’t have a king, we don’t have an emperor, just instinctively believe that. But if you just look at the very definition of what an empire is, of what a monarchy is, and the sort of defining attributes of what those systems of government are, certainly we’re a lot closer to that in terms of how we now function practice than we are to the constitutional republic that we began as.

The picture tells us how The Witnesses approaches the subject of AIDS in mid eighties France: insouciantly. We know – the characters vaguely know – the threat, but we’re having too much fun to take precautions. Although not the subtle psychosexual ballet that director André Téchiné’s 1995 masterpiece Wild Reeds was, The Witnesses has the earlier film’s democracy of spirit. Téchiné doesn’t linger too long on any one character; if the dialogue is at times didactic rather than realistic, the performances and the delicateness with which he sets his characters in motion amidst settings almost too worthy of postcards create their own pleasure. The filigrees of ethnic tension between the Muslim Mehdi (Sami Bouajila), wife Sarah (Emmanuelle Béart), and lover Manu (Johan Libéreau) is handled with an offhanded probity that’s a relief from the metaphysical exertions of Caché and, shall we say, the static post-colonialist erotica of Clair Denis’ Beau Travail. Nothing is held too long here. The characters behave as people with appetites first; no wonder the film shows Béart typing her novel, the foursome dancing on a sunlit veranda, and enjoying a boat excursion in the first twenty minutes. The exception – Michel Blanc as Manu’s older lover, too smart and too generous for his own good – doesn’t force others to reckon with his appetites until he’s consumed by them.

Most refreshing, Téchiné doesn’t photograph Libéreau’s Manu as sun-kissed manflesh, as Denis or François Ozon would have (Ozon’s Time To Leave stands as this film’s sweet, sickly counterpart). From the first instant he flashes his big-toothed grin we’re all goners, and the director has the good sense not to push his luck. Manu’s beauty is really an extension of his youth, and as ephemeral. Similarly, we’re not asked to gawk at Béart’s nudeness in a scene in which Bouajila talks to her while she’s showering. These men and women are as comfortable with their bodies as with sport (the scent of sweat and grass is as strong here as in Wild Reeds), which makes the disease’s onset more devastating. While not quite its equal, The Witnesses plays like a celluloid adaptation of the Pet Shop Boys’ “Being Boring”

Literature’s finest schlock

I remember the shock when I read Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One a couple of years after Brideshead Revisited. Imagine listening to the Buzzcock’s “Orgasm Addict” after Kansas’ “Dust in the Wind.” The author of this limp, pallid, honey-hewed paen to English private school class envy and homoerotica wrote really funny novels! Maybe “pallid” is too strong: the depictions of nasty headmasters are worthy of the writer of Scoop and Vile Bodies; but they’re unenthusiastic takedowns, as if nostalgia dulled his skewer.

Anyway, Troy Patterson fondly walks us through “literature’s finest schlock” and the PBS adaptation that predated the E.M. Forster revival by almost four years, hereby preparing us for a lot of pain.

Good news here and here. In the first link, the House votes to revoke the travel ban on AIDS victims by an overwhelming margin (303-115); it now goes to the President’s desk. In the second, the House Armed Services Committee held hearings to discuss the continued efficacy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” No movement yet, but there was bipartisan unity in the ridicule for one Elaine Donnelly:

“We’re talking about real consequences for real people,” Donnelly proclaimed. Her written statement added warnings about “inappropriate passive/aggressive actions common in the homosexual community,” the prospects of “forcible sodomy” and “exotic forms of sexual expression,” and the case of “a group of black lesbians who decided to gang-assault” a fellow soldier.